Pizza Domenica, the proposed expansion of Chef John Besh's downtown Domenica restaurant onto Magazine Street, will head to the New Orleans City Council without a recommendation from the City Planning Commission after a split vote by commissioners Aug. 28. The restaurant needs City Council approval to sell alcohol at the new Uptown location, which was formerly a vitamin store.
Go-cups — a topic of heated debate online in recent weeks — dominated the latest discussion, but commissioners who voted against Pizza Domenica said afterward that parking, not go-cups, drove their decision.
Robert Street resident Mark Tullis, speaking on behalf of the nearby Faubourg Avart Neighborhood Association, said the group fully supports the project and would like to see the restaurant be able to offer go-cups. Besh Group attorney Raymond Landry even brought a go-cup to the podium, showing commissioners the standard model used in other Besh restaurants — hard black plastic, Mardi Gras-style, emblazoned with the names of their other restaurants.
Commission chair Kelly Brown asked the staff for clarification on why they are prohibited — is it because the permit for alcohol sales at a restaurant is specified for "on-premises" consumption? "The application is for consumption of alcoholic beverages on premises, and the definition of something going out the door in a cup is beyond what the application is for here," Brown said.
The planning staff agreed, adding the intent of the proviso was to avoid creating litter in the neighborhood. Staffers also noted that there is no citywide ban on go-cups, and the commission can consider each case individually. Commissioner Nolan Marshall III asked if souvenir-style cups frequently become trash; Leslie Alley, deputy director of the commission, said they do not. Commissioner Craig Mitchell then asked if the anti-litter plan required by the commission might include go-cup trash, so the cups were not singled out.
Marshall proposed approving the restaurant and the staff's recommendations, but striking the prohibition against go-cups. The commission voted 4-2 in favor of Marshall's motion — technically falling short of the votes needed to constitute an official recommendation to the City Council. Instead, the vote is considered split, known as "no legal majority," and the City Council will be left to decide the issue on its own.
The stumbling block was parking, said both commissioners who voted against the project. During the meeting, former state Rep. Rosalind Peychaud said she was disappointed the planning staff determined the configuration of the building would keep Pizza Domenica under the threshold that would require off-street parking.
"How we deal with parking in neighborhoods and Magazine Street is an ongoing battle," Marshall said. But the go-cups? Marshall said he has no problem with them. In fact, he said with a smile, as a downtown resident, he understands the appeal as much as any New Orleanian should. — ROBERT MORRIS | UPTOWN MESSENGER